Judge Won’t Reconsider Seminole Tribe Gambling Ruling

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TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – A federal judge has flatly refused a request from Gov. Rick Scott’s administration to reconsider a ruling that Florida violated a gambling agreement with the Seminole Tribe.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle issued a two-page order Tuesday, less than a week after attorneys for Scott and the Department of Business and Professional Regulation submitted a 33-page document requesting changes in Hinkle’s Nov. 9 ruling in favor of the tribe.

“This case was tried to the court. A written opinion set out the court’s findings of fact and conclusions of law. The defendant has moved to alter or amend the judgment,” Hinkle wrote in the order. “For the most part, the motion simply reargues the merits. The original opinion correctly analyzes the issues. This order denies the motion to alter or amend.”

The November ruling and Tuesday’s order were part of a legal battle about blackjack and other types of games at Seminole casinos and what are known as “designated player games” at pari-mutuel facilities regulated by the state.

In siding with the tribe in November, Hinkle ruled that designated-player games at pari-mutuels violate a 2010 agreement that gave the tribe exclusive rights to operate “banked” card games, such as blackjack, in exchange for paying $1 billion to the state.

A five-year agreement dealing with the banked card games — part of a larger, 20-year deal called a “compact” — expired in 2015, prompting the Seminoles to file the lawsuit. The state, meanwhile, filed a separate lawsuit asking the judge to order the tribe to shut down blackjack and other banked games, which the Seminoles have continued to operate.

Hinkle agreed with the Seminoles that the state-authorized designated player games, also known as “player-banked” games, triggered an exception to the five-year agreement. He ordered that the tribe be allowed to continue to conduct the banked games for the remainder of the overall compact’s 20-year term.

In the request for reconsideration, attorneys for the state raised a series of issues about Hinkle’s November ruling, including disputing his conclusion that “designated player games” meet the definition of banked card games and, as a result, violate the 2010 compact.

“State and federal law contradict the finding that designated player games are ‘banking or banked card games’ under the 2010 compact,” the state’s motion said. “Furthermore, the evidence at trial did not support the factual findings on the negotiation and drafting of the 2010 compact. Nor did it support the factual findings on the parties’ intent regarding designated player games.”

But attorneys for the tribe countered Friday by urging Hinkle to reject the state’s request for reconsideration.

“The court found that the designated player games are ‘banked card games’ based upon reasonable interpretations of (federal and state laws), common understanding of the term in the gaming industry, testimony of both expert and lay witnesses, and legislative history,” the tribe’s attorneys wrote in a six-page document. “The state ignores virtually all of that evidence, disregards the court’s reasoning, and presents its argument as though there had been no comprehensive briefing on the relevant issues and no trial.”

Amid the legal wrangling, Scott’s administration and the tribe have tried to negotiate a revised compact. Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said Tuesday it is a priority for him to get a compact ratified — a move that would require legislative approval. A spokesman for the tribe declined to provide details of the negotiations.

The News Service of Florida’s Jim Saunders contributed to this report.

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